30 November, 2011

Review: Once Upon A Winter's Eve by Tessa Dare

Although I didn't really love it, I happily recommend Once Upon A Winter's Eve. Tessa Dare is an author I keep having suggested to me. Like Miranda Neville, once I sampled her I realized she wasn't for me. Readers who love Tessa Dare absolutely adore her and I certainly see why. This short and currently crazy cheap novella shows off her strengths. (Avon is publishing her Spindle Cove series but the novella is from Samhain.) Serving more as an introduction to her Spindle Cove concept than an isolated tale, Dare is obviously working on a world populated by unconventional heroines and quirky side characters. (This is not my row so I rarely hoe it.)

Through the eyes of Violet Winterbottom (really) we view the residents of Spindle Cove. In short time we meet a pair of twins (one an amputee) a female medic, a family running a general store despite their useless and abusive father, a famous arms manufacturer and, well, other people. (We meet a lot of people.) We also learn about Spindle Cove. Believed from the outside to be a place for ruined girls to knit cat covers, it's actually a female empowerment camp. Or something. It's very small town feisty, our Spindle Cove. If you like that sort of thing you will really like it.  If you don't, you'll appreciate the care she's taken for consistency of character and place. As a short, Once Upon A Winter's Eve didn't totally work for me. I appreciated it far more than I enjoyed it, but that's not to it's detriment. This is an excellent way to sample Tessa Dare without ponying up the Agency entry fee. 

29 November, 2011

Books I Cast Aside: Erik Larson And David King

I have read far too many WW2 books. I know about Hitler's dog, Hitler's niece, Churchill's second cousin twice removed and the American position on all of it. I've read things I can never remove from my brain (blocked the title out, white cover, Ukraine, lost village memoir, highly recommended except for ever sleeping again) and things that made me roll my eyes. I get obsessive about certain time periods and WW2 appears to be one. It probably has something to do with the epic death toll on all sides of my family. Anyway. I'm a sucker for a WW2 book. I'm also a sucker for books that contrast different realities. Erik Larson set the benchmark for this style of non-fiction with The Devil In The White City. Now I wish he hadn't.

Too many books since then seem to be walking the same ground in a different field. I currently have a ten book nonfiction backlog due to the bottleneck created by two such books. Despite both of them dealing with WW2, I am moving on. They've kept me from other books for far too long. David King's Death In The City of Light would be an exceptional book if he edited half of it out. It's daily life in occupied France, it's a serial killer preying on desperate Jewish refugees, it's a police procedural, it's an exhaustive look at an investigation. Unfortunately it's also about Camus, Sartre, Picasso and their crowd. It's just too much. Our party people add nothing to the narrative and it's exhaustive detail is not well served by the breaks the reader takes to discover Simone was moody. I want to finish this book so much that I just started skipping all the sections with the artists. It was still overloaded. King has a fantastic book in here, but it's not the one that went to press. People with more patience for info dumps and backtracking expository will adore it. I'm shelving it for that rainy day where excessive ruminations appeal.

The other log in my book jam is Erik Larson himself. A look at the society and diplomacy around pre Pearl Harbor Germany? Well hell yea! Except it's boring. Don't get the wrong, the political stuff is interesting, the man on the street stuff is interesting, but the subtext of Martha Dodd is troubling. Every attempt is made to portray her fairly and sympathetically. Which is sort of a problem. She would be all over TMZ if she were alive today. A woman who parties with the German government, considers dating Hitler and goes on to end her days as an expatriate? Wanted in America for spying on behalf of the Soviets, not wanted by the Soviets, she let her high ideals (such as they were) lead her to a fairly unpleasant life. Judgement was never Martha's strong suit be it politics or men. If I had approached this book as a look at Martha, perhaps I would enjoy it more. If I hadn't tried to read it at the same time as Death In The City of Light I might be raving about it now It too is being shelved for a rainy day where I feel more tolerant of her foibles, less annoyed at her willful indulgences. After all, this is probably seconds away from becoming a Tom Hanks film.

28 November, 2011

Review: A Midsummer Night's Sin by Kasey Michaels

Meet Puck. (He's not named after the really appalling MTV Real World character, but that guy pretty much ruined my ability to take anyone named Puck seriously as a romantic lead.) His mom has a Shakespeare jones and his parent's aren't married (allegedly, I have my doubts) because his aunt had Down's syndrome so his dad married her instead. So Puck has been running about being charming in Paris when he decides to return home and be charming in England. That was sort of interesting. Puck mixes blackmail into his charm under the they-deserve-it doctrine. Sadly, Puck is only charming for a few pages. His debut into London Society is also his swan song.

Puck converts from charmingly cold hearted party animal into caring righter of wrongs. at the party he meets first time bad girl Regina and discovers her cousin has been abducted. It's pretty obvious by who. And why. And, of course, it's one of those things that only really upsets our wealthy leads when it's happening to white folk. We're going to have to go with a spoiler here - the kidnapped cousin may or may not have fallen afoul of white slavers. It happens here! In London! To white people! Yes, everyone is most surprised. And it happens without care or notice to poor people! Who'da thunk? Of course the slaver is the baddest of the bad, the most ickiest dude, of course he's the slaver, how could they not have seen, etc? Here's the thing. While there is nothing good about slavery, being outraged over the white kind but not the black kind (our Puck nobly tries to rescue a white woman that completely forgets about the trade in general) doesn't read well. Let's give our characters that they only consider white slavery the really bad kind. Why is the slavery guy a horrible guy? Why wouldn't he just be a guy for profit who doesn't share their outrage at transferring slavery to white guys? (It's even pointed out that white slaves are less profitable than black ones unless they can be used for fresh virginal nookie). Look, Kasey Michaels does a decent job with it, I'm not faulting her for trying to tackle it in a realistic way or any of that. I'm just saying that omgz-he-is-so-bad slaver boy is an easy stereotype when her own characters tacitly condone non-caucausian slavery. Ugh. Let's move on from this comma overload.

So. Regina. Missing cousin, drunken mom, mixed family heritage (in the money sense not the color sense) meets Puck, party boy with a moody older brother and unmarried parents. They try to find her cousin, they have a fair amount of sex, they move on with their lives. All in all, it was better than Beau's story and I'm going to read Jack's but I wouldn't stay up late on the night I bought it. Or maybe I would. It's better than the review implies, I just can't get past the mixed slavery messages going on. If Michaels hadn't included the flashback to Puck's youth, I think I would have liked it much more than I did.

25 November, 2011

Review: A Lady's Lesson In Scandal by Meredith Duran

Meredith Duran is an interesting writer. She strikes me as a cross between Judith Ivory and Mary Balogh. Like Balogh, her books are often character studies where little happens externally. Like Ivory, her characters are quite realistic. In A Lady's Lesson In Scandal a lost child is recovered and given the Pygmalion treatment. But her childhood in poverty has made her stronger than the hero, not weaker. Simon has been raised in financial comfort but emotional poverty. As a result, he has found himself with few survival skills outside of his charm. A classic example of meeting the very low bar set for him, Simon keeps his depth hidden. Nell's hard earned need to read people before they strike out allows her to see there is something beneath his surface charm.

I'm surprised to find I have very little to say about Nell and Simon. I very much enjoyed their story. It's definitely on my short list for best books I read this year. (Maybe it's the broken ankle?) The issue of class was executed very well, as Simon's revulsion gives way to a realization of his own petty biases. Nell's anger at her change in circumstance, her refusal to relax her guard and her inability to refute her origins all ring true as well. A Lady's Lesson In Scandal is filled with the sort of small moments that make a character more than a momentary diversion. Nell absolutely found her way into my heart and if she wants Simon, she should have him. I hope there is a sequel in the works. At the book's close we are left with more questions than answers about Nell's separation from her family. It reads like a complete story, but one that leaves the reader wishing it had a few more chapters. If you missed this when it came out, hunt it down. It was absolutely worth the time.

23 November, 2011

Review: The Other Guy's Bride by Connie Brockway

I'm not sure why both iterations of this cover have a dark haired heroine when she's clearly described as blonde. She's blonde enough to turn her hair red with henna, so the double brunette action doesn't really work. I'm willing to give them her height on the second cover (she's tall, with a big nose) since the dress is pretty sweet. Anyway, on to the content. The Other Guy's Bride just misses epic status. It's a good, possibly great, but it's not a book of the year and it should be. It could have been. It's annoying that it isn't. (Ok, it probably will be for some readers.) You should buy it, it's decently priced and a great Indiana Jones-esque adventure tale. Except when it isn't. Let's jump the big hurdles first, ok?

 Haji gave me great hope. A non white character who isn't following someone around out of servile gratitude, a character that others acknowledge faces racism, a character presented in exactly the same manner as a white character... until the end. In a move that absolutely killed me there is a last chapter push for Haji to give up the race card. Yes folks, the problem isn't xenophobic colonialist white folk operating from a place of privilege, it's Haji being oversensitive. Just no. No, no, no. No. I will give Haji being unable to accept his place in the heroine's family, I will give Haji making mistakes as a child from his own assumptions, I will NOT give Haji needing only to stop looking for racial slights where none exist. Just no. Not today and especially not 100 years ago. Mildred can be racist, it's okay. Mildred is marrying a racist, therefore she is unlikely to be socially progressive.

My next stumbling block involves our power couple, Gin and Jim. I don't know about you, but if I have been kidnapped by slavers and trudged through the desert for four days while facing the continual threat of rape, all I can think about is losing my virginity to the first white man that shows up. And really, if I have been tracking my kidnapped love interest waiting for a chance to save her I am absolutely not going to wait one second more for sex. No need to put getting away above getting it on! No villain ever escaped binding ropes nor had their compatriots unexpectedly return! Baby, it's nookie time. We can run afterward. (This threw me completely out of the story. We went from epic read to wtf read in a few pages.)

The final stumbling block is a lack of clarity for events. Jim lays his history out as such - his mother died when he was four and his father remarried. That wife died in childbirth. His father died when he was fourteen and his grandmother brought him to meet his ten year old brother who was the only bright spot in his subsequent life. Later in the book his brother (Jock) talks about how Jim acted around Jock's mother. Wait, isn't Jock's mother dead? Did she die in childbirth after Jim's father died? Did she remarry? How did  Jim have time to meet her if it was his father's child? If she did remarry, why did she still live with Jock? Where is Jock's stepfather? (I think that Brockway forgot she'd killed off the stepmother.)

There's also a completely unneeded secondary villain who seems to serve no purpose other than beating Jim up. He comes and goes but seems like an abandoned subplot or a shoe that never really drops. He's set in place to cause mayhem, but the mayhem doesn't materialize. It's a shame, he might have been a more interesting foil for drama than the slavers but it's a minor thing. Let's get back to the big things. Gin, our heroine, is completely believable. She's a trouble magnet, the accident prone girl in a family of adventurers, the romantic in the midst of scholars. Having been sent away for her own protection she's spent her life trying to live her parent's dream in a quest to prove herself worthy of her last name. Gin is a woman so busy trying to please others that she's forgotten how to please herself. She's also not small, dainty or delicate of feature. Gin is a powerful woman chasing the wrong dreams.

Jim isn't chasing any dreams at all. He starts the book as a complete wimp. He's run away from his inheritance, he's run away from his disapproving family, he's run away from romantic rejection, he is due for a complete reinvention of himself. The man he becomes is an opportunistic mercenary who goes where the highest bidder beckons. He's devoid of dreams, devoid of ties and content enough with his martyrdom to passively accept the hand his grandmother played when he was young and stupid. He's cut from the "better off without me" cloth. He's floating through life waiting for it to end, while fighting to stay alive. Like Gin, he has no idea what he really wants. This is a great dynamic. There are strong secondary characters. The book largely dodges many colonialist pitfalls (although there are also lazy Nigerians who take advantage of situations) and spreads it's character flaws to all colors. The racist white Colonel is mostly overworked and understaffed, the frightened troops are burnt out and ready for home. Everyone in this book is operating from a place of real conflict and realistic motivations. If Gin and Jim were just a bit older, a bit wiser, this would have been an epic read. As they stand, it's a very good one.

22 November, 2011

Review: Snag Films Meets Who Is Harry Nilsson

Ozy and I have been spending way too much time together lately. I was tired of everything he had to offer. I was sick of his games, I'd heard most of his stories and didn't care to hear the others. We needed something to take the edge off. Luckily, I found SnagFilms. Sometimes you just need a new app and SnagFilms was free. After a very short commercial for Goldman Sachs (what?) I was able to watch a film that's been on my Guess I Should Watch That Since People Keep Mentioning It list. I'd intended to watch Hype! but Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?) popped up. Reminded of it's existence I decided to give it a go.

Suppose Christopher Guest decided to make a new film and it was inspired by a late night viewing of Forest Gump. At first it seems like a complete put on. Here's the critical piece of information you need to understand the rest of this. I had never hear of Harry Nilsson in my life. Wait, you need two pieces of information. I have spent my life as an avid fan of 60's and 70's music, right down to Leo Sayer. I am conversant with Popsicle Toes and Put The Bone In. Plus punk. And funk. Also, disco and prog. I get around. So. This guy comes on who looks vaguely Monty Python meets Late Night Local TV and he segues into a clip of Dustin Hoffman sadly saying that some guy named Harry Nilsson had died. A person in the audience shouts something - maybe it's no - but it means he expects his audience to know who this dude is. Dustin helpfully tells me it's the guy who sang Midnight Cowboy's theme song. Got it. Ok, some session musician? Cool. Wait, he wrote One Is The Loneliest Number? Is that a picture of him with The Beatles? John Lennon is saying the guy is his favorite artist? What? Right down to having Eric Idle chatting after some guy with so much Botox that only his tongue moves when he laughs, this thing was playing like a fake. Except it wasn't.

I have spent decades in record shops, in flea markets, in garage sales, in people's parents basements. I have touched albums people haven't thought about since they were released and I've never come across Harry Nilsson? This tells me two things. The first is that obviously Nilsson lovers hoard the albums like jealous lovers. The second is that I am ignorant. Ignorant as the day is long and twice as uneducated. After I accepted that this story wasn't fiction and none of these pictures were photoshop, I set about understanding where he fits into the musical landscape. The answer was everywhere. In Nilsson's erratic catalog I heard influence being handed off to artists as diverse as Tom Petty and Bruno Mars. Even Cee-Lo has either heard this stuff or heard something from someone who has. Parts of it are as godawful as any 70's creation and parts of it could be recorded tomorrow. Yoko Ono and May Pang both eulogize Harry. (That takes a minute to process all by itself.)

The documentary is wonderfully understated. Harry Nilsson was a train wreck. A very slow moving one. Like Lennon, he abandoned one child only to become Father Of The Year for the next. Like Lennon, he's got an ex wife who sees him as deeply flawed and damaged and a widow who reveres him. Like Lennon, he has a great cause in his life and is willing to sacrifice parts of his career to it's pursuit. Like Lennon, he hangs out with Beatles. He is like the slightly kinder, much softer version of his friend. Complete with deserting a child as he was deserted and never really getting that he's done that. Cuddly Toy may not be a Mr. Pindommy's Dilemma, but the Nilsson catalog proves to be both utterly familiar and bizarrely new. Alternating between "He wrote that?" and "He wrote THAT?" I was amazed. I think Nilsson was far less clever than the film presents - there is an element of dogged work ethic that erodes the narrative of simple genius. It makes it all the more impressive.

19 November, 2011

Review: Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm

Of course it's Kurt. It's still a great cover. Kurt turning away from the adulation he has sought says everything you need to say about him. Even the audience seems uncertain about their evening. Are we enjoying ourselves? Is it okay to enjoy ourselves?

Once, quite a few years ago, I was sitting in a bar attached to a small nightclub waiting for a show to start. I can't remember who was playing. After a while, it blurs together like a merry-go-round with a few bright moments standing out. So we're waiting for this band and a big screen is playing music videos. (It's what they did, once upon a time.) I'm in Connecticut with a girl from Indiana. I don't know why she's there. She hates concerts, music and those who play instruments. (I know she arrived suddenly and in some emotional distress so I assume I already had the tickets and just took her along instead of leaving her in my apartment with my razor blades. Go with it.) There we are, two friends. A Blind Melon video comes on and we both sigh. I say (truthfully) that I saw Hoon play shortly before he died and it's a damn shame. She says she didn't know I was a fan of Shannon Hoon. She wishes she'd known. We could have gotten together.

At this point I have known this girl close to a decade but we don't discuss music. She tells me she and Shannon grew up together. The Very Bad Things that happened in her life happened while she was in that scene. (None of it involved him.) Her brother worked for Axl Rose's parents. She was in the center of a number of music circles and I had known her for years without knowing a thing about it. The rest of the evening was a fascinating conversation we never repeated. None of it mattered to her. These were the people she knew and the things they did. It was exactly the same as the people I know and the things they've done. Why would I mention any of it? Who cares?

This is the brilliance of an oral history, when well done. Everybody Loves Our Town is exceptionally well done. If you've read this far and wondered why I told you about one night in a bar in the 90's, then it won't be the book for you. If you're wondering what she said to me, what I said to her, you will adore Everybody Loves Our Town as much as I did. This is the definitive history of a time and a place that affected a generation of young adults. (Stuck in a small town after growing up in a big city, it was Andrew Wood's voice that reminded me escape was possible. He was already dead.) Hearing the participants tell their story in all it's overlapping contradictory nature is like that bar conversation in the 90's. Free from music theory, free from obvious editorial direction, Mark Yarm lets the reader sit back and enjoy the conversation.

Starting when everyone is young and stupid (as we were all once) and moving through the Very Bad Things that always happen (when you go from young and stupid to slightly older and not much brighter) and then to the bright morning of After (where you realize you grew up somehow), Yarm tells the story of a specific scene with universal meaning. As close as you can come to a bar conversation with each of the participants, Yarm's oral history has all the power of Patti Smith's Just Kids. I hope it does just as well in the market. I recommend pairing this book with a basic knowledge of the Seattle sound and a viewing of Pearl Jam: Twenty. It will remind you your youth was never misspent, it was squandered on things you still love. (And if we're ever in a bar I might tell you my Kurt Cobain story, but I'm afraid the Shannon & Axl stuff isn't mine to reveal.)

11 November, 2011

Review: The Beginner's Guide To Rakes by Suzanne Enoch

People are not happy with my Amazon review of this one, but I have to stand by it. Diane is bat-shit crazy. By any yardstick you care to use, she is dangerously unhinged. Oliver at first seems to be fairly balanced, if a walking STD but by the end of the book you see why these two crazy (and I do mean crazy) kids are together. I've seen a number of reviews focus on the title, completely ignoring the insanity contained within. Look, I like Suzanne Enoch but she's a roller coaster of an author. When she's good, she's very very good and when she's bad, well, Sweet Jesus. I got over the whole conflating I-95 with the turnpike thing in her West Palm Beach series, I got over half of the Adventurers Club, but I have no idea where we go from A Beginner's Guide To Rakes. Suzanne, it's not you but it is definitely, absolutely, positively Diane.

Ok, so let's spoil this one. There is no way to adequately represent how much Oliver needs a restraining order without doing so. When we meet Diane she is determined to open a gaming club. As a respectable young widow who lost everything to her dead husband's gaming ways, she has decided to turn the tables and become the house. Since her business partner has turned up dead, her solution is to blackmail a former lover (Oliver) into loaning her tens of thousands of dollars and training her (all female but not whores) staff so she can realize her dream. Forget the incredibly slender thread of blackmail she has. Forget that Oliver KNOWS she is a master forger. Just go with the fact that he will be blackmailed. Oliver knows she's a master forger because after her husband's death Diane forged all the non-entailed property deeds into her name. (Keep in mind, the rightful heir is the villain of this book. How DARE he want his family property after Diane suffered a bad marriage to his brother? All of that is hers!) Ok, so Crazy-pants Criminal is our heroine and Walking STD is our hero. (He's one of those guys who pulls out of one chick while thinking about banging another in a few minutes. How tedious of these women who want to be treated like actual beings instead of a vessel for his pleasure. How histrionic of them.)

Still with me?

So Diane has her all female gaming club in the renovated downstairs of her stolen home with her blackmailed ex-lover living upstairs. Diane hates Oliver. HATES him. (Dead bunnies in the bed hate. Shredded clothes dipped in her own blood hate. Crazy hate.) She hates him because after two great weeks in bed a few days after the death of her husband he left her. She carries a gun in her pocket, she is so angry. She checks drawers to make sure a gun is always at hand. She threatens to shoot him to get her money. A few days later after some flirty action, he kisses her and walks from the room. So she does what any bat-shit crazy heroine would do. She shoots him in the back. Which everyone treats as normal. Of course you would. Never mind infection, never mind lack of antibiotics, never mind that she is bat-shit crazy, who wouldn't shoot a guy after a kiss? Duh! It's not like it slows Oliver down. No infection, no disability in movement, no discomfort wearing his clothes - within two pages he is his old agile un-shot self. Now he checks the rooms for guns before dealing with her, so her staff keeps threatening to shoot him.

Soon Diane needs more money. When faced with a blackmailing bat-shit crazy gun-toting criminal who hates you, the obvious solution is to pay her to bang you. But not just bang you, Oliver has a whole romantic escapade planned. He left her high and dry after their two week fling because he was beginning to love her. Oliver, this isn't love, this is STOCKHOLM SYNDROME! Run, dude! Run fast and far!! Even worse, this book is sequel bait. We're going to meet more of the ladies in the gaming club and their psycho self justifying boss in later books. By the time Oliver breaks through her ceiling for sex (while the club is open, the hell?) I'd lost any concern for him either. Benchley, the rightful heir of the house is not the bad guy! Trying to get his property returned is not evil! Toward the end of the book Enoch seems to realize this and hastily makes Benchley a slimy gambler who blackmails our loving couple. It's a bit late. I can't even get into the society matrons demonstrating on the steps and being bought off with a charity version of Diane's successful Ladies Night, much less her tour of White's. I'm as much a fan of Romanceland as the next girl, no stickler for historical accuracy when a good tale is spun - but c'mon, son!

This book was one long WTF for me. It might be a brand killer, I have to sit and think about it for a time. Enoch and I, we had some good times together. We had some bad times together. But we've never had bat-shit crazy times before. I never want to read about Diane again, if this is the launch of a series I'm probably going to have to sit it out.

06 November, 2011

Review: The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

That is a cover only it's mother could love, and she's lying. So much has gone wrong. From the colors to the fashion to the font and the hands - it's just a crying shame. I loved this book. I hate to see it go all ugly duckling in the packaging. First of all, our hero is not a Duke. He isn't the lost son of a Duke, the unexpected 15th cousin of a Duke left standing after an outbreak of the plague or a Duke impersonator. Our Hawker is a straight up street rat with no apologies about it. I don't understand the publishing fascination with bloodlines. Once you establish 'rich' I'm just as happy to have my fantasy tale happen without a Princess. Think about Paris Hilton for a moment. She's had all the advantages money and ducal connections can grant. Now think about her siblings. Or her parents. Right. We're done here. (I am sure all the Hiltons are perfectly lovely people, smart as whips every one.)

So back to Hawker. He's a spy of course, because all of Bourne's characters are in some fashion involved in the Napoleonic Wars. (In a good way!) It's easy to do the French Revolution wrong. We've all read the books. It's muddy, you meet Wellington, French Royalists are good, French Loyalists are bad, the English walk on water and everyone make a run for the Dover coast. (Sorry, I fell asleep for a second.) Bourne's world is a more complicated one reflecting the true nature of people. Hawker isn't sure why he's loyal to Britain, he just is. Owl, his enemy counterpart, believes as completely in France. The difference between Justine and most French Loyalists is that she never changes her mind. What she is fighting for is the right of self determination. She is not blinded by the failings of an individual leader, her focus is on the goal of freedom for her nation. It's easy to see why Hawker doesn't hold that against her.

Bourne has a downright Walt Disney (the man, not the logo) gift for setting an atmosphere. When her characters are in France, they're in France right down to the smell of bread in the air. When they're in a cramped enclosure, you'll throw the blanket off your feet to take the squirms off. While The Black Hawk is a story fans have been calling for after every one of Bourne's books, readers have met Owl before. In The Forbidden Rose she makes her first appearance in Hawker's life. That appearance (as well as other events from his life) are revisited seamlessly in The Black Hawk. Never feeling like a rehash, several events we already know from his life are illuminated as we discover the details of hers. As with all Bourne's books, not every detail is answered. Some things, as we discovered in earlier books, are meant for later. There is more than enough here to satisfy, as two people who never had childhoods eventually find the way to their futures.

04 November, 2011

Review: Marzi by Marzena Sowa & Sylvain Savoia

This is one of my favorite graphic novels ever. I absolutely loved Marzi. With that said, let's get on to the complaining part of this review. I really don't understand what Vertigo is doing with this coloration. The military boots, the angry child, the bunny being ripped apart - this cover says Maus meets Poland. I expected the kid to spend time starving in a ditch, clubbed over the head by the military or something. Instead Marzi is a sunny (mostly) coming of age story filled with the tiny moments that define a child's life. I know a 7 year old that is reading it cover to cover and enjoying every second of it. Look at this alternate take. While the cover is still pretty combative, it's more inviting. This says Read Me, I Might Be Interesting. Vertigo's cover says Give To Unicef. Since Marzi never really spends any time with the military at all, I'm not sure what the point of having her surrounded by combat boots is. Yes, she grew up under communism, yes her father participated in the strikes, but this volume involves a lot of sunny days at the farm and laughs with her friends.

Savoia is a gifted graphic artist. Her ability to capture expression in spare lines is fantastic. Even in a black and white review version her art brings the story to a new level. While Sowa is telling her tale out of time (events don't happen in order) the art is consistent, allowing a reader to easily bridge the gaps. I know Marzi is going to get compared to Persepolis or Fun Home. This is lazy marketing. Marzi is closer to Yotsuba than it is to either of those works. (It's just like Fun Home, there is a lesbian involved! It's just like Persepolis, it's not in America!) Obviously, Marzi is not as lighthearted and absurdist as Yotsuba. I make the comparison to denigrate the other comparisons. It rings true. Early on there is a moment where Marzi complains of shopping for toilet paper. If you buy it, people will know you use it. People will be aware you have a toilet in your home! I know plenty of children who share this same sense of embarrassment. This is the real strength of Marzi - by taking the extraordinary events of her life (having to stand in line on toilet paper day) and mixing them into the universal experiences of many children, she makes it identifiable. This is a wonderful volume, and I hope more follow. Perhaps with happier covers.